By Anu Mehta
It is when victims speak out about the pain of being violated sexually, emotionally and physically and let go of secrets, that healing happens, says Anu Mehta
By and large we are a people who do not speak out. Abuse, in our country, as in the world, takes many forms and whether it is verbal, physical, emotional, mental or sexual, the devastating effect on the victim is undeniable. The abused feel absolutely used. They feel so violated, dirty, shabby and sinful, particularly in case of sexual abuse, that it could be the primary impression they have of themselves. No matter how they portray themselves to the world, they have a deep need for approval, and constantly try to please others as their self-esteem is abysmally low. They are emotionally, if not physically, scarred for life. They do not want anyone to see their scars or ‘real self’. They deceive themselves and everyone else by retreating into silence, keeping their trauma a closely guarded secret and suffering the consequences, until they are 30 or even 40 years sometimes. Silence is a form of denial, an attempt to pretend that everything is normal in their lives.
The silence and secrecy are shattering, but most often the victim does not know it. Some even think that they have dealt with the trauma of the abuse in their own way and have risen above it. Others deal with it by trivialising it and pretending to themselves that it is no big deal as statistics show that it is quite rampant and it happens to a lot of people. In the process, they go through unimaginable physical, emotional and mental agony, repeating patterns of health problems, broken relationships, grief, career setbacks and financial hardships, not realising that it is the burden of the secret and silence that they are suffering. The only way to prevent abuse or its continuation, and heal from it, is shattering the wall of silence and speaking out the secrets.
Where there is physical abuse, the child is usually very quiet, withdrawn and is likely to have bruises or scars on the body. The child may also be unkempt, dirty, smelly, uncared for or neglected.
Signs of abuse
In the case of sexual abuse, the perpetrator is usually a known person – a parent, relative, family friend, teacher, care-giver, domestic help, driver. He/she is always an older person – an adult, someone in authority or someone having proximity, access to or complete control over the victim, and knows that the victim will not open his/her mouth. Yes. Abuse can happen to female or male children by an abuser of either sex and generally happens in an environment that the child thought of as safe – at home, in the home of a family friend or tutor, or school. Special children are particularly vulnerable, and the abuse increases their suffering.
The first time it happens with a child, the child is usually of a very tender age and it is generally introduced in the form of a game or play. The child is made to believe that she/he is going to have fun. Since the abuser is a known person, the child trusts him/her.
|The unborn child of a pregnant woman who is a victim of marital rape can feel abused in the womb, leading to imbalance of sex hormones. The experience of abuse or even witnessing it, can hasten puberty, adolescence and sexual development.|
Fondling or touching of the genitals results in pleasurable sensations to the child as the area is full of nerve endings and it is a natural biological reaction of the body. The child actually enjoys it. It becomes a secret between the child and the abuser, which makes the child feel special, so the child’s silence is guaranteed. If the home atmosphere is not a loving one and there is strictness with undue importance on discipline and academic performance, the child feels isolated from other/actual family members and bonds strongly with the abuser.
Initially, the abuser treats the child very well, showering love and attention on her/him, bestowing special favours or giving gifts sometimes, so the child feels good about it all and doesn’t even know that something is wrong. It is only when the abuse becomes more aggressive and there is vaginal or anal penetration, leading to pain and bleeding from torn tissues that the child becomes afraid and feels totally isolated and alone. For some children, this kind of horrifying experience may be their first encounter. After the first instance, if the abuser is a domestic help, driver or watchman, word is spread around and the child becomes fair game to others as well, making her/his life traumatic.
The abuser then ensures secrecy by making the child believe that it was all his/her fault for being a “bad” child and inviting the abuse. The guilt and fear of being exposed take hold now. If the child had found the physical sensations pleasurable initially, the guilt is killing. There is also anger against the family for not being able to see or for pretending not to see what is happening, and for not doing anything about it.
Effects of abuse
The effects of abuse, whether sexual or otherwise, can vary from person to person. The first time the trauma occurs, it is completely unexpected and very dramatic. The victim feels disconnected from other people and does not know what to do. The energy of the trauma gets lodged in an organ of the body, in the heart and in one of the four layers of the brain (where it can actually be seen on a CT scan), depending upon how they perceive it. Each layer of the brain is connected to a certain issue: brain stem – basic survival, cerebellum – protection, medulla – self-evaluation and self-worth and cortex – violation of space or territory, separation, trapped feeling. The victims suffer from different issues based upon which layer of their brain was hit.
The trauma of the abuse shuts down one side of the cortex, affecting the production of testosterone in males, and estrogen in females. This may lead to men becoming effeminate and women becoming aggressively male. The unborn child of a pregnant woman who is a victim of marital rape can feel abused in the womb, leading to imbalance of sex hormones. The experience of abuse or even witnessing it, can hasten puberty, adolescence and sexual development. There are instances of female victims maturing as early as eight to nine years of age and very young boys having wet dreams. Female victims may develop problems with the uterus, ovaries, blocked fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancies, endometriosis, frequent urinary tract infections and so on. Males may develop problems related to their reproductory organs and prostrate glands. Problems with sexuality are common to both. Victims may feel driven to substance abuse to numb themselves. The feeling of isolation causes edema – which is the abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin or in one or more cavities of the body that produces swelling. Due to the guilt syndrome, victims may also develop eating disorders leading to weight issues and OCDs which are generally about cleaning to wash off the feeling of being dirty. They may also vomit to purge themselves if they were forced to perform oral sex and swallow, or take to religion for purification of their soul and to absolve themselves for having sexual desires and wet dreams, which are just natural bodily functions.
An abuser is usually someone who has been abused or seen abuse happening. When abused, the victim feels totally not in control of the situation and completely at the mercy of the abuser. Being the abuser enables him/her to feel totally in control. Abuse is always about control. Besides this, the surge of sexual hormones at an early age stimulates an uncontrollable urge to experiment, resulting in teenagers abusing younger siblings or cousins.
|Anu Mehta is an Integrated Meta |
Medicine Health Coach and the only
META- medicine and META-Healing
Trainer in India.
If and when the silence is finally broken, it is usually to the therapist. Not to the family. Parents do not want to believe or accept the reality of the abuse because they don’t know how to deal with it and so, very often do not offer any understanding or support. Even if the child tells a parent, very often the child is told to keep quiet about it or forget it because it is shameful if people come to know of it, or the abuser is a sibling or parent or someone whom they cannot afford to alienate.
To put an end to the trauma the child needs to be believed, understood and supported. Above all, they need reassurance that what happened was not their fault and that they are not bad people who have actually invited such an experience. When a child dares to speak out, he/she needs to be treated with sensitivity. If an internal examination is required for medical treatment, it should be explained to the child because that could also feel like an invasion of privacy, like abuse. Parents need to be educated regarding communicating with their children with more openness regarding sexual matters, in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time. The family can help by being supportive and providing an environment in which children feel safe, and can speak out. Family therapy is necessary for the entire family to heal, especially where a family member is the abuser. Positive effort to heal is needed. Otherwise, even if an adult breaks the silence after 40 years of suffering, the hurt child inside is still crying, still dying.
As told to Revati Rao Ravanam
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